As the seasons turn, the garden changes. In a veggie garden, that means it’s time to clear out old plants to make room for new ones. In colder seasons, you may (like the garden) wind down and slow your growth.
Perennial gardens have the benefit of looking lovely all year round if you stretch your understanding of what “lush” can be. I personally appreciate the look of the spent flower heads backed by the autumn sun’s rays. There is much beauty in the fall and winter garden, even when we let it go.
But there are so many other reasons to let your flowers go to seed, aside from the enjoyment of fall and winter’s aesthetic offerings. You can use the dried heads in and out of the garden in numerous ways.
Why Let Your Flowers Go to Seed?
While you don’t have to let all your flowers go to seed after blooming, there are many reasons for doing so! Let’s discuss why you should put down the pruners.
Feed the Birds
Birds will eagerly visit your garden to feast on plant seeds when food becomes scarce.
You can ditch the bird feeder in the winter if you leave your seed heads on the plants through the colder months. Unless there are repeated severe weather events, the seeds cling to the heads and remain without fail.
Songbirds, in particular, will flock to your garden when food is scarce to dine heartily on the seeds of perennial flowering plants. Birds less accustomed to human interaction get just a little closer, giving you a good glimpse.
I’ve really enjoyed watching chickadees eat the heads of the horsetail that grows in my yard. The way they delicately balance and enjoy just a few at a time is very entertaining, and knowing I’m conferring with nature in this way gives me a good feeling. In conjunction with the spiky and fluffy seed heads that bob in the winter light, there’s no comparison!
Maintain Your Supply of Blooms
Resist the temptation to deadhead your garden before the growing season concludes.
While cleaning up the garden before the growing season ends may be tempting, leave those seed heads on the plants! What isn’t eaten by birds will drop to the earth to grow again in spring. That means you won’t miss out on copious blooms next year.
If you like to garden for cut flowers, having a steady supply of seeds to draw from is important for maintaining consistent stock. If you have a particularly unruly or generous plant that always has tons of flowers and spreads readily, you can collect some of the seed heads to sow elsewhere or give away.
Strengthen Plant Genetics
Letting most flower heads fall to the ground for germination can enhance their genetic heritage.
This is relevant to those with multiple perennials of the same species. You strengthen their genetic legacy by growing them year after year and allowing the majority of your flower heads to propagate for you by falling to the earth and germinating.
It’s a fascinating process. Let’s take a coneflower, for instance. Say you have several coneflowers growing in your garden, and you allow them to seed out. Each generation becomes more adapted to the area where they grow and, in turn, gains strength to combat the existing stressors in your region.
This is exactly how people breed plants with desirable traits as well. They continuously grow them from the same stock, cross-pollinating with other plants that are easier to grow or more beautiful. Sometimes, color is the trait the plants are bred for. You can do this with your flowers, and you may even be able to develop a new cultivar.
Propagate Difficult Plants More Easily
Many plants have seeds with low germination rates, making them challenging to grow from seed.
There are tons of plants that produce seeds with low germination rates, and this makes it difficult to start from seed. Leaving your seed heads on your annual and perennial flowers saves the energy needed to start other plants, while the more complicated ones are left to do their thing on their own.
In turn, you conserve time instead of trying to use space in your seed starting area when you know the chances of germination are low. The energy expended is left solely to the plant and the garden soil.
Use Them In Dried Flower Arrangements
You can place dried flowers in vases or incorporate them into your holiday wreaths.
For those who love to grow flowers for fresh-cut arrangements, you can let them dry in the autumn sun and use them in dried arrangements that last all winter. Put them in a vase, or use them to decorate your holiday wreath. Press the flowers or insert them in garlands to hang around the house for winter.
If you do this, try to keep the flowers out of direct sunlight. They’ll maintain their integrity longer this way. If your wreath has to be in direct sunlight, you can spray the flowers with a UV protectant, which you can find at various art stores.
On the inverse of this, wreaths exposed to humidity can develop mold. A sealant prevents unwanted growth in situations where humidity cannot be avoided.
Save Some Seeds
Consider giving rare plant seeds as gifts to support native ecology to those who share your interest.
We’ve discussed how letting your plants go to seed helps with the propagation of difficult plants. Similarly, you can save some of the seed heads to plant elsewhere. If you happen to grow a particularly rare plant – especially a rare native plant – saving the seeds to plant elsewhere gives that plant more of a foothold in the ecosystem.
Seeds of rare plants are also great gifts for those who have a vested interest in supporting native ecology. The seeds you save might be for you or for family and friends. You can even give some to your local seed bank.
Leaving these seed heads and stems untouched creates a habitat for overwintering insects.
Birds eat seed heads, yes. But leaving those seeds heads and stems provides habitat for overwintering insects. Wasps take up residence in the heads of spent bundle flowers. Solitary bees live in woody perennial stems and wake up in spring to pollinate your garden.
While you’re saving seeds and growing these plants, you bolster the natural spaces around you, and you get closer to the wildlife that enjoys such biodiversity. There’s nothing better than watching animals enjoy what you have built.
These reasons should convince you to enjoy some autumn and winter colors with seed pods and heads. Leave them there, bring them in, and collect seeds for next year – all of these are viable options for letting your flowers fade and letting those seeds form.
Get into the changing weather, and let those flowers go to seed!